Above, female students at Dana Middle School show off the messages on their empowerment shirts during a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Dana Middle School students are energized during International Women’s Day.

Filled Thursday with female students, the auditorium of Richard Henry Dana Middle School was energized by a purple wave of passion.

The students’ passion, in this case, was celebrating International Women’s Day – a global homage to women’s achievements. During the school’s first-ever observance of this day, every female student proudly wore a purple T-shirt, which was provided by the school, in a demonstration of unity for gender parity.

The shirts were emblazoned with the message: “Strong Women. Strong America. Strong World.”

“We really want them to recognize there is a day when women can come together,” said Principal Steven Gebhart, who also sported one of the purple T-shirts. “Regardless of whether they feel that they don’t have anything in common, they do. At the end of the day, everybody has something in common, and everybody can support the group.”

“I’ve had kids say to me, ‘Mr. G, you’re not a girl or a woman, so why are you wearing that shirt?’ Gebhart added. “It’s not just that someone who looks like you can support you. We can all support each other and that’s something I hope the students get out of this. Look around, everybody around is like you. Whether they look like you or same upbringing, we’re all still together in supporting this fight.”

Hollywood High School students cheer during an International Women’s Day event along Highland Avenue.

The observance featured a 45-minute assembly, which featured four distinguished alumni:

  • Yesenia Aguilar, who runs the College Bound program at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club, helping underprivileged youth pursue their dreams at an institution of higher learning.
  • Tiffany Barnes, a top-producing real estate agent in the South Bay area who will be inducted soon into San Pedro High School Hall of Fame for softball.
  • Lora King, daughter of Rodney King and founder of the Rodney King Foundation for Social Justice and Human Rights.
  • Sherry Kuhn, who teaches second grade at 15th Street Elementary School. She was active in Dana’s performing arts program.

The alums hoped to inspire the young women. Kiersten Bell, an eighth-grader at the school who was the event’s emcee, said their presence helped her to feel “empowered.”

Dana Middle School Principal Steven Gebhart is flanked by alumni, from left, Yesenia Aguilar, Lora King, Tiffany Barnes and Sherry Kuhn.

“The celebration is empowering young girls and helping us look forward to becoming young women in the world,” Bell said. “I’m hoping to be more confident and fearless in moving forward to high school and to college.”

Other alumni, like Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, was unable to attend. Gebhart said it was important to show female students that there are many ways that women can be successful and make a difference in the lives of others.

The purple T-shirts were central to events at other schools as they marked International Women’s Day. At Hollywood High students stood with their backs facing Highland Avenue, creating a “human billboard” printed with characteristics that describe women.

Dana students also used their shirts to convey messages of empowerment, which were selected based on a school-wide survey.

“Amazing,” one of the shirts read. “Causing great surprise, wonder. Impressive.”